Cup 15

Person: Ruben Derderian

Drink: Cup of brewed coffee from the MSU Technologies office  


Have you ever jumped off a high dive?

You start on the ground and inch your way up the ladder, each rung getting you closer to the impending moment when you must leave the safety of the board for the uncertainty of the air and the cool blue water below. You’ve been waiting for this moment, preparing for it, in some ways looking forward to it, but all the mental preparedness can’t keep the anticipation of the fall, and the unexpected outcome the water brings, at bay.

It’s nerve racking.

You know what else is nerve racking? Jumping off the diving board of college into the waters of real life.

Rung one: write a resume.

Rung two: job fair.

Rung three: interview.

Rung four: acceptance letter.

Then you reach the top of the ladder. You inch your way closer to the edge, knowing full well there’s no turning back now. It’s only a matter of time before commencement rolls around and you’re on the edge of the board. Until then, the fear, excitement, and uncertainty mount.

Senior year is fun, but man can it be stressful.

Fortunately, as Ruben Derderian told me, the anticipation is always worse than the jump. And I believed him, because Ruben Derderian has had his fair share of successful dives.

Over his 30 plus year career, Ruben has been the President of five companies, Vice President of two, an independent management consultant, and now the Associate Director of Bioeconomy at Michigan State University.

That’s an impressive track record.

After receiving a science degree from Michigan State in 1965 and being wait-listed for the MSU Vet School two years in a row, Ruben and his wife decided to move to Baton Rouge, so he could work on a Masters Degree at Louisiana State University.

During that time, the retail store he had invested in with his brother—who was in charge of running operations—wasn’t doing well. When sales continued to fall, Ruben decided to take a semester off and move back to Michigan to salvage his investment. While helping his brother get the store back in order and sold, Ruben started working for a small medical device company, which was a growing industry at the time. He fully intended to finish his degree at LSU, the job was just something to do in the meantime.

But he quickly discovered he was good in his role. With his strong science background, he started going on calls with the salesmen. His ability to translate the mechanics of the medical device into terms doctors could understand made him a valuable asset. The problem was that he was making the sale, but the salesmen were earning the commission. When a new sales territory opened up, he asked his boss if he could take it. His boss said no, he wasn’t about to invest in an employee that was just going to move back to Louisiana.

That’s when Ruben decided it was time to switch plans and fully dive into medical sales—he’d finish the degree later.

He stayed with the company for a while before joining a new company where he was the Rookie Salesman of the year, the Most Improved Salesman the next year, and finally the company’s leading salesman his third year with the company.

His success led to job promotions and work he really enjoyed. That’s when he set his sights on an ultimate goal—one day he wanted to be the President/CEO of a corporation.

That goal set the tone for his career.

He worked his way up through the company, learning as much as possible and creating the most value along the way. When he reached a point where he’d done all he could do within that company, he looked for opportunities outside that corporation that allowed him to inch closer to his goal.

Then he repeated the process.

He worked incredibly hard,

Found mentors that helped him,

Leveraged his strengths

Looked for opportunities,

Kept learning,

and focused on jobs that he enjoyed.

The recipe clearly paid off—he achieved his goal of running a company (multiple times) and enjoyed the successes along the way. He’s enjoyed his career so much he keeps failing at retirement. He keeps finding ways to go back to work.

After telling me the long story of his successful career, Ruben turned the tables and asked me about my plans for the future. I didn’t like the tables being turned. It’s not much fun admitting that you don’t have a clue what your next step in life is going to be.

But I told him.

And what he told me was invaluable. He said I’d be just fine in the long run. He said it’s hell trying to find a job when you don’t have one. But once you have a job, it’s not too difficult to find a new one—especially if you’re building credibility and skills along the way.

That—and his story in general—lifted a big weight off my shoulders.

I, like many college students, have gotten caught up in the anticipation. I can’t shake the mindset that I have to find the perfect job. Have to. I mean this is the first step of my career! If I make the wrong choice—if i set out on the wrong foot—I’ve jeopardized my every chance at success! Right?


It’s not the job that decides your potential—you decide your potential.

That’s the lesson I learned in Cup 15:

The job you get is important, but it’s what you do once you get there that truly matters.

Ruben didn’t succeed in business because he found the “perfect job,” he succeeded because he was determined to keep going until he accomplished what he set out to achieve. I’d bet a lot of money Ruben would have been successful regardless of where he started.

The reality is that it’s scary jumping off the high dive—and that fear never fully disappears. But talking with Ruben reminded me that I’ve spent four years in college learning the skills necessary to survive in the waters of the real world. I’ve been preparing for this moment.

I know how to swim. I should be excited to jump.